Education funding matter of dispute

The Ministry of Education has rejected the findings of a newly released report showing two out of three New Zealand secondary schools have reported a worse financial year in 2012 than 2011, and a quarter have dealt with deficits in the past three years.

Otago secondary school principals are not surprised by the ministry's reaction.

The latest New Zealand Council for Education Research national survey took place in July and August 2012, and is conducted every three years to provide a comprehensive picture of the education system, allowing it to track issues and trends.

Questionnaires went to all principals of New Zealand's 322 state and integrated secondary schools, and 55% responded.

The 2012 survey pre-dated the difficulties with Novopay, which have preoccupied many schools in recent months.

However, one of the main findings was government funding remained a key issue for schools, with 66% reporting a worse financial year last year than in 2011.

It also found steering their school back from a deficit was listed by 24% of principals as one of their main achievements during the past three years.

Principals surveyed said factors contributing to the situation included rising fixed costs; the introduction of allocating roll-based operational funding to schools each quarter using actual roll numbers at that time, rather than March rolls; less income than expected; a decrease in voluntary school fees/donations; fewer international fee-paying pupils, and an unexpected roll decrease.

The survey report said rises in fixed costs posed a greater challenge for those schools whose rolls dropped unexpectedly, because it eroded some of their ability to provide for their pupils.

Of the 30% of secondary schools which reported doing better financially last year than in 2011, 18% said it was because they had cut their spending.

Ministry of Education group manager Marilyn Scott said the funding formula had not changed.

She said secondary schools had been asked to report pupil numbers four times a year to more accurately reflect their roll.

''Schools are adequately funded to deliver the curriculum so that all students are able to learn and achieve.''

Otago Secondary Principals' Association president Brent Russell said he was not surprised at the ministry's reaction.

''It's what we hear every year.''

He said schools and associated organisations had campaigned for increases in operations grants numerous times, and each year principals grappled with making savings to make sure their budgets were balanced.

''The reality is that costs keep rising and the operations grant must keep pace with those.

''Water, electricity, heating and wages are all increasing.

''Clearly, the operations grants are not keeping up with the pace. If it were, there wouldn't be so many school deficits around the country.

''We try to make the money go as far as we can. It's a system we work within to the best of our ability.''

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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